What is traditional Andean food?
Intro to Peruvian cuisine
Writing about Peruvian, Cusco and Machu Picchu food is not a straightforward task since it became all too well-known in the 2000s when Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio became a national hero by putting Peruvian food on the global map.
The whole world has now heard of Peruvian ‘Ceviche’, a coastal delicatessen of raw fish marinated with lime and spices, or ‘Causa Rellena’, the versatile, soft, spicy potato cake layered with anything tasty and served cold. Peruvian food is so distinct that it deserves a whole chapter in any international cookbook, in the same way as Italian or Japanese food.
Why is Peruvian cuisine so great?
In a nutshell, there are four main reasons why Peruvian food is so special:
1) Peru has an infinite spectrum of different climates and elevations in which to grow thousands of different edible plants (as well as an infinite supply of seafood from the richest sea in the world).
2) Peru is one of the cradles of civilization. Its local indigenous population have been using every acre or arable space to domesticate a myriad varieties of anything delicious for thousands of years. Potatoes, quinoa, alpacas and guinea pigs, just to name a few, originated in the Andes. This goes without mentioning the trading of ingredients with Mesoamerica (the Mexico area, with its most notable export: the avocado), and potentially with the Polynesians across the Pacific!
3) Since the colonization by Europeans in the 1500s and the more recent arrival of Asian and African immigrants, new ingredients and cooking techniques were added to the already extremely varied local cuisine. ‘Ceviche’ requires local spices as well as the Japanese fish-cutting techniques.
4) The recent economic development of Peru has translated into more investment in culinary schools. A new generation of chefs, including those at our Casa del Sol Boutique Hotel are trained at famous culinary academies all over the world and are re-defining the frontiers of traditional Peruvian food.
What is traditional Andean food?
While the coast is famous for its seafood and the rainforest is known for its exotic fruits, dishes in the mountainous region of the Andes where Machu Picchu lies revolve around hundreds of varieties of potatoes, corn, hot peppers, spices, quinoa and tender Alpaca and ‘cuy’ (guinea pig) meat, etc. I say etc because this is only the tip of the iceberg, there are many other less-known but amazing ingredients such as ‘Huacatay’ leaves or the nutritious ‘Maca’ and ‘Kiwicha’.
And as earlier mentioned, generations of foreign immigrants and talented new chefs have unleashed a whole new culinary world of Andean cuisine, which has become the staple food in Cusco. Two examples below:
Baked over hot stones in an earthen oven called a ‘Huatia’, the Pachamanca is the Andean response to the BBQ. A mix of local meat, tubers, vegetables and spices are placed over pre-heated rocks and covered in a thick layer of herbs and grass. This is then buried under a layer of soil.
The hot rocks act as the fire, and the grass and soil as the oven door. After a few hours of underground simmering, the contents take on a grounded ‘herby’ and ‘earthy’ tone, amplified by the choice of local spices. ‘Pachamanqueros’ are artists after all.
Olluquito con Charqui
Some historians argue that ‘Charqui’ was the foundation of the Incan empire, as it gave the domineering Inca armies (The Andean Romans) an un-spoilable supply of food. Western Meat ‘Jerky’ had its origins in ‘Charqui’ (believe it or not, English has several Quechua influences), the local andean name for the dried, salted Alpaca and Llama meat. ‘Charqui’ is essentially ‘Llama/Alpaca Jerky’.
Nowadays, with more hungry locals and tourists than conquering Incan armies, ‘Charqui’ is no longer made for arduous military campaigns, but for creating an exotic andean curry together with ‘Olluco’ (or ‘Ulluku’), a protein and calcium-rich root vegetable common in the Andes.
Served with locally-sourced Cusco white rice and infused with a delicate mix of spices, this curry-looking dish is crispy and a must-try for anyone willing to try a completely new flavour.
An Andean Banquet
In Casa del Sol Boutique Hotel, we let our our chefs (we prefer calling them artists) showcase their creations in our famous Andean Banquet, which is offered together with a relaxing Andean-inspired massage. No one likes blowing their own trumpet but we consider ourselves the best Machu Picchu restaurant.